9 Impressive Facts About the Leonberger


These cuddly dogs were bred to resemble lions, but they really look more like teddy bears. Learn more about these impressively large canines.


Heinrich Essig, a noted politician, is generally credited with the creation of the Leonberger. The avid dog lover was known to trade somewhere between 200 and 300 dogs a year. A resident of Leonberg, Germany, he hoped to create a dog that resembled the lion on the town’s crest. In 1846, Essig announced that he had developed a new dog by crossing a Landseer Newfoundland with a Saint Bernard, and then a Pyrenean mountain dog. He named the new breed after his beloved hometown. He then left to promote the dog while his niece, Marie, bred and trained the dogs at home.

Essig claimed that his lion-like dogs only came from those three breeds, but today’s experts are skeptical. Many believe that the dog must have been made using a wider range of types to achieve its unusual looks.


Essig was an amazing salesman who was able to smooth-talk his way into the homes of royalty and celebrities around the world. He also used his position on the town council to promote both his town and the dogs that shared the town’s name. Leonbergers were soon owned by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy, and the Czar of Russia.


As with many other breeds, war threatened to wipe out the Leonberger. In an effort to save them from extinction, two breeders named Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans rounded up the last 25. Only five of the remaining dogs were fit to breed; still, Stadelmann and Josenhans managed to reinvigorate the line. In 1922, a group of seven people came together to start a formal breeding program, and by 1926, they had 360 Leonbergers.


Leos are dimorphic, meaning that the female and male dogs are noticeably different. Males are bred to be more “masculine” and generally heftier dogs; on average they weigh about 132 pounds, while females weigh an average of 105 pounds.


Typically, Leos don’t produce very many puppies at a time; litters have six puppies on average. In 2009, one Leonberger surprised its owners by giving birth to 18 puppies. Thought to be a breed record in the United States, the impressive number of pups kept their family very busy. The mother, named Ariel, had previously given birth to a litter of four puppies. Before she delivered her second, considerably larger litter, her owners were unable to tell how many puppies would be delivered, even with an ultrasound. “We knew it was at least 10,” they said.


Leonbergers are known to be a sensitive breed. It’s said that the kind dogs get visibly distressed when their family argues or otherwise expresses anger or sadness. Leos are bred as companion dogs, and enjoy being in the company of their owners. They don't do well when left alone for long periods of time.


These gentle giants have excellent bedside manner. They are great with children and the elderly, showing an amazing amount of gentleness for a dog of their size. (Their stature also makes it easy for them to be petted from a hospital bed.) In 2002, the Leonberger Club of America started an award program to celebrate Leos and their owners for taking time to participate in therapy programs.


Leonbergers have a thick double coat that gives them their lion-like appearance. The coat can come in many different colors, such as yellow, sand, brown, and red, usually tipped with black. Even the texture of their coats can have variety. Thanks to their mane-like appearance, owners of the dog are likely to find a lot of hair around their homes. Frequent brushing is a must unless you want your house overrun with hairballs. [PDF]


It takes a special kind of dog—ideally, one with a powerful nose—to become a search and rescue dog. Leos are agile, well coordinated, and eager to please. In Canada, Germany, and other parts of Europe, the dogs are often used to find missing people. Thanks to their webbed feet, they’re great swimmers, which makes them perfect for water missions.

Ted Cranford
Scientists Use a CT Scanner to Give Whales a Hearing Test
Ted Cranford
Ted Cranford

It's hard to study how whales hear. You can't just give the largest animals in the world a standard hearing test. But it's important to know, because noise pollution is a huge problem underwater. Loud sounds generated by human activity like shipping and drilling now permeate the ocean, subjecting animals like whales and dolphins to an unnatural din that interferes with their ability to sense and communicate.

New research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California suggests that the answer lies in a CT scanner designed to image rockets. Scientists in San Diego recently used a CT scanner to scan an entire minke whale, allowing them to model how it and other whales hear.

Many whales rely on their hearing more than any other sense. Whales use sonar to detect the environment around them. Sound travels fast underwater and can carry across long distances, and it allows whales to sense both predators and potential prey over the vast territories these animals inhabit. It’s key to communicating with other whales, too.

A CT scan of two halves of a dead whale
Ted Cranford, San Diego State University

Human technology, meanwhile, has made the ocean a noisy place. The propellers and engines of commercial ships create chronic, low-frequency noise that’s within the hearing range of many marine species, including baleen whales like the minke. The oil and gas industry is a major contributor, not only because of offshore drilling, but due to seismic testing for potential drilling sites, which involves blasting air at the ocean floor and measuring the (loud) sound that comes back. Military sonar operations can also have a profound impact; so much so that several years ago, environmental groups filed lawsuits against the U.S. Navy over its sonar testing off the coasts of California and Hawaii. (The environmentalists won, but the new rules may not be much better.)

Using the CT scans and computer modeling, San Diego State University biologist Ted Cranford predicted the ranges of audible sounds for the fin whale and the minke. To do so, he and his team scanned the body of an 11-foot-long minke whale calf (euthanized after being stranded on a Maryland beach in 2012 and preserved) with a CT scanner built to detect flaws in solid-fuel rocket engines. Cranford and his colleague Peter Krysl had previously used the same technique to scan the heads of a Cuvier’s beaked whale and a sperm whale to generate computer simulations of their auditory systems [PDF].

To save time scanning the minke calf, Cranford and the team ended up cutting the whale in half and scanning both parts. Then they digitally reconstructed it for the purposes of the model.

The scans, which assessed tissue density and elasticity, helped them visualize how sound waves vibrate through the skull and soft tissue of a whale’s head. According to models created with that data, minke whales’ hearing is sensitive to a larger range of sound frequencies than previously thought. The whales are sensitive to higher frequencies beyond those of each other’s vocalizations, leading the researchers to believe that they may be trying to hear the higher-frequency sounds of orcas, one of their main predators. (Toothed whales and dolphins communicate at higher frequencies than baleen whales do.)

Knowing the exact frequencies whales can hear is an important part of figuring out just how much human-created noise pollution affects them. By some estimates, according to Cranford, the low-frequency noise underwater created by human activity has doubled every 10 years for the past half-century. "Understanding how various marine vertebrates receive and process low-frequency sound is crucial for assessing the potential impacts" of that noise, he said in a press statement.

Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.


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